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Putting Business Goals at the Heart of Your Post-Pandemic Data Strategy Refresh

Five of the world’s top female data and analytics executives share the processes and structures their companies have in place to keep their data strategies aligned with their business strategies in 2021 and beyond



Data is most valuable when an enterprise can harness it to optimize processes or make better decisions. But to ensure data is used in this way, data-focused executives must partner closely with business leaders from across their organizations to ensure their strategies are aligned.

As the five top female executives who participated in our recent virtual roundtable on this topic pointed out, data and analytics leaders should keep this in mind as their enterprises refresh their strategies in preparation for the post-pandemic world.

“At the moment, it’s a really unique kind of time where everyone’s outside of their comfort zone and business strategies are somewhat outdated,” said Harleen Thethy, Head of Analytics at BBC Global News. “So, it’s now important to form a new strategy and learn to adapt.”

“A crucial part for me, particularly, would be understanding specifically how you and your team fit in with achieving the end-goal for the business,” she added. “To be truly successful, we need to have that cross-functional collaboration between the teams.”

“The core objective of any data and analytics team [is] to actually help the other business teams to succeed,” agreed Minna Kärhä, Data Strategist at consultancy KAITO Insight. “The most important [thing] for collaboration and building those partnerships is to find those other teams that you can really contribute [to] and help them to succeed.”

Ensuring Data and Business Strategy Alignment

To discover how the executives took part in this discussion achieve this alignment, we asked them to share the processes and organizational structures they have in place to encourage close collaboration across business units.

“We consider ourselves part of the business,” said JoAnn Stonier, Chief Data Officer at Mastercard. “Parts of my team actually sit with other business teams as they’re developing their business strategies, so we can think through what data is needed to actually execute the strategy.”

“Some of the other teams that we partner with as we execute the larger view and mandate of data includes HR,” Stonier continued. “But it also includes our communications team. How do we want to have all of our employees thinking about data?”

“We’ve got a really good operating rhythm with our business stakeholders,” added Maritza Curry, Head of Data at financial services company RCS Group. “But where we have filled some of the gaps in terms of that collaboration and co-creation is at a strategic level.”

“We have a monthly data [steering committee],” she continued. “The CEO and our C-level executives are on the [committee] and that’s basically the highest level of authority for data and analytics at RCS. And it’s this [committee] that makes strategic decisions around data and analytics and really drives the data strategy.”

Much like Stonier, Curry says her team partners closely with the firm’s HR and learning and development functions to ensure data-driven practices are incorporated into its day-to-day business practices. But she revealed that RCS’ marketing team also plays a role in promoting data and analytics.

“Marketing [is] fantastic and very creative,” she said. “They’re helping us with the marketing of our data strategy and our initiatives, and also just helping us think through the creative side around the data and analytics portal, for example, and how to visualize our information.”

Going from a Data-Driven to a Data-Led Strategy

Many data leaders put a lot of focus into discovering what their company’s business strategy is and developing a strategy for helping their colleagues achieve their goals with data. But in the most advanced data-using enterprises, data strategy often leads the business strategy.

Some of the executives that took part in our roundtable were keen to stress that this is the case for their organizations.

“We are right there at the table as part of the business design as the strategy is being designed, so that data is actually part of it,” Stonier explained.

“I would actually take it a step further,” added Amy Gershkoff Bolles PhD, Chief Operating Officer at ecommerce marketplace Tradesy. “I think that data strategy and data-driven decisioning is actually just part of how all decisions should be made in any organization.”

Over time, we may see more and more companies adopting data-led approaches to developing their business strategies. But whether it’s data that’s leading the business strategy or vice versa, ensuring alignment between data teams and the wider business is a core responsibility for any data-focused leader.

As businesses seek to refresh their strategies in preparation for the post-pandemic world, data-focused executives must ensure they have a seat at the table to support their colleagues as they plan for the future.